Mizuki Inoue (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Out of Obscurity: Deep Cage Impact 2015, Deep Jewels 9 and IGF 4

Every week, Combat Press takes a look at three regional, developmental or international cards from the upcoming weekend, previewing from each a single fight to which people should pay close attention. We will also list other significant bouts from the card, as well as information on how to follow each promotion and watch the events.

Let’s discover those prospects that fight in the obscurity of the regional, developmental and international circuits, waiting for their shot at the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, and those veterans looking for one more chance at stardom. It all begins here, in the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums. It all begins with promotions such as these…

Deep Cage Impact 2015
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Aug. 29
Website: deep2001.com
Twitter: @deep_official


Spotlight Fight:
Kazunori Yokota (23-5-3) vs. Kenjiro Takahashi (8-3)

Deep has a busy weekend ahead. The promotion is hosting the next edition of its Cage Impact 2015 series at Differ Ariake and, immediately following the men’s action, the women of Deep Jewels will take to the cage. The men’s event features a two-round, featherweight contest between Kazunori Yokota and Kenjiro Takahashi.

Yokota’s name is most likely to be the one that resonates with fight fans. The judoka and longtime Team Grabaka fighter was a fixture in Sengoku from 2008 to 2010. After Sengoku’s demise, Yokota returned to Deep, where he had spent much of his early career. The 37-year-old’s Sengoku run ended on a three-fight skid, but he has gone undefeated in his subsequent fights and amassed an 11-fight winning streak. Along the way, Yokota claimed the vacant Deep featherweight crown. He has defended the belt sparingly — it will not be on the line against Takahashi — and made a trip up to lightweight to topple Juri Ohara. The veteran is a decision machine, posting a 14-3-3 record in fights that have gone the distance. He does have four victories via strikes and five wins by way of submission. Yokota has been knocked out twice, both within the first round.

Takahashi has a much shorter resume, but he is also riding a significant winning streak. The Mach Dojo product debuted in 2010 and lost three of his first four outings. Now he’s on a seven-fight winning streak with five finishes. With the exception of a stoppage win over Katsuyoshi Beppu, Takahashi’s streak consists of fighters who at most are three wins above the .500 mark. The 28-year-old is an effective striker who has scored five of his finishes with his fists. He also has one submission win.

This is a significant step up in competition for Takahashi. He’s fighting an opponent who once held the Deep lightweight title and currently reigns as the promotion’s featherweight champion. Yokota has more than 30 fights under his belt, and that level of experience will be difficult for Takahashi to overcome. The answer could be Takahashi’s aggressive striking — Yokota’s chin is suspect — but Takahashi might find less success in this area against more skilled and experienced opposition.

It’s easy to point to Yokota’s age and past knockout losses when giving Takahashi a chance in this contest. However, Yokota just fought and defeated the 26-year-old Kobayashi in December. That’s a big win over a better striker in a 15-minute affair. If Kobayashi couldn’t put away Yokota, it seems highly unlikely that Takahashi will succeed either.

Yokota is a grinder, and he’s going to do what he does best. This bout ends with a decision victory for Yokota.

Other key bouts: Kota Shimoishi (14-3) vs. Shigetoshi Iwase (14-17-4), Masakazu Imanari (31-14-2) vs. Mun Hwan Yang (0-0), Kimihiro Eto (6-1-2) vs. Yasuhiro Kawasaki (9-4-3), Isamu Odagiri (6-1-1) vs. Tomohiro Adaniya (17-9-2)

Deep Jewels 9
Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Aug. 29
Website: deepjewels.com
Watch Event: online pay-per-view on Ustream

Spotlight Fight:
Mizuki Inoue (8-4) vs. Emi Fujino (16-8)

Invicta Fighting Championships doesn’t return until Sept. 12, but a couple of the promotion’s veterans are set to compete this weekend in Deep Jewels, the other major all-women’s MMA promotion. Takayo Hashi puts her bantamweight title on the line against up-and-comer Ji Yeon Kim in the headliner of Deep Jewels 9. Meanwhile, strawweight queen Mizuki Inoue defends her crown against veteran Emi Fujino. The latter of these bouts holds great weight in the strawweight division, where Inoue was once considered to be a rising star.

Inoue’s status as one of the division’s elite has been put in question by her 2014-15 campaign. The young Japanese fighter, who made her MMA debut at age 16 and just hit the U.S. legal drinking age days ago, has encountered numerous setbacks over the last year and a half. After racking up a 7-1 mark in her earlier fights, Inoue failed to make weight for the Deep Jewels 52-kilogram (115-pound) tournament finals. Despite defeating Emi Tomimatsu, who will also appear on this Deep Jewels 9 card, Inoue was credited with a disqualification loss, thereby allowing Tomimatsu to claim the strawweight belt. Inoue returned six months later to submit Tomimatsu again to capture the title. The success was short-lived, however, as Inoue made the trek to the United States three months later for Invicta FC 9 and lost to Karolina Kowalkiewicz. In her next fight, Inoue went to war with Alexa Grasso and emerged on the losing end of a unanimous verdict. She competed against Ayaka Hamasaki in a grappling bout at Deep Jewels 8, but it ended in a draw. The 21-year-old is just 1-3 in her last four fights. Despite a background in the striking arts of kickboxing and karate, Inoue has yet to score a knockout or TKO. Instead, she has claimed six wins by submission.

Fujino is a well-traveled veteran of the sport. Her stops include Smackgirl, Valkyrie, Sengoku, Jewels, Pancrase, the World Series of Fighting and Road FC. The 34-year-old made her pro debut in 2004 and compiled an undefeated mark, including a win over Mei Yamaguchi, through her first eight outings. She fell on hard times in her next four bouts, all decision losses (including a defeat in a rematch with Yamaguchi). Fujino rallied back in late 2010 and has posted an 8-4 mark through her last 12 fights. The four losses in that span came against the legendary Megumi Fujii, Ayaka Hamasaki, then-reigning WSOF champion Jessica Aguilar and her current opponent, Inoue. “The Kamikaze Angel” has competed in kickboxing and appeared in professional wrestling bouts, but she, too, tends to favor the ground when finishing opponents. Fujino has claimed six submission victories, with the rest of her wins coming on the scorecards. Despite eight defeats, Fujino has never been stopped in MMA action.

Inoue and Fujino don’t have the best winning percentages in the strawweight division, but their records are misleading. These two ladies reside in the upper tiers of the weight class. Eliminating Inoue’s disqualification in the first Tomimatsu bout, her losses have been to fellow members of the division’s upper echelon. Fujino’s early losses came to middling fighters, but her more recent defeats read as a who’s who of women’s MMA.

Fujino displayed her toughness and heart in her most recent loss to Aguilar. She’s not an easy out. However, the Aguilar fight and her first meeting with Inoue also stand as testament to Fujino’s biggest weaknesses. Both opponents outworked Fujino on the feet and connected with numerous punishing blows. Aguilar, especially, battered the Wajutsu Keishukai Gods fighter from start to finish for a one-sided drubbing.

Inoue isn’t winning every fight anymore, but her contest against Grasso proved that the young fighter is still a tough foe for anybody. Her excellent boxing will once again give her the advantage over Fujino. There’s no reason to expect this fight to produce different results than the pair’s first encounter. Inoue is going to land effectively with her strikes en route to a decision nod.

Other key bouts: Takayo Hashi (15-5-1) vs. Ji Yeon Kim (3-0-2) for the bantamweight title, Emi Tomimatsu (8-10) vs. Natsuki Shimomakise (0-0)

Inoki Genome Fight 4
Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo
Event Date: Aug. 29
Website: igf.jp

Spotlight Fight:
Fernando Rodrigues Jr. (8-1) vs. Yosef Ali Mohammad (5-1)

It’s a busy weekend for MMA in Japan. In addition to the double offering from Deep, Japanese fight fans have the fourth installment of Inoki Genome Fight. The event includes the semifinal round of the IGF’s open-weight World Grand Prix. On one side of the bracket, Chris Barnett collides with Oli Thompson. The other semifinal match pairs prospects Fernando Rodrigues Jr. and Yosef Ali Mohammad. Barnett and Thompson are established veterans, but it’s the 6-foot-6 Muhammad and Team Nogueira’s Rodrigues Jr. that hold the most promise for future success.

Muhammad is a Swedish fighter based out of the AVAM camp. He debuted in late 2012 with a vicious beatdown of Denis Sokol. Muhammad lost his sophomore effort in a controversial decision against Viktor Pesta. He has rebounded with four first-round finishes to bring his overall record to 5-1. Muhammad has stopped four foes with strikes and one opponent via submission.

The 28-year-old Rodrigues Jr. is another fighter who is very effective with his fists. “Santo Forte” has six wins by some form of knockout. He has also scored one victory apiece by way of submission and decision. The Team Nogueira fighter debuted in late 2012 and stopped his first six opponents. He ran into trouble in his seventh fight, where he succumbed to a second-round armbar against Alison Vicente. The Brazilian has bounced back to score wins in his two most recent fights.

This has the potential to be a great, albeit short, fight. Muhammad tends to charge out of the gates, bully his opponents against the ropes or cage, throw knees and then use his size to muscle opponents to the mat. Once on the ground, he unleashes a ground-and-pound attack that can be overwhelming. Rodrigues Jr. utilizes kicks more frequently in his attack. The Brazilian also looks to drag opponents to the mat, but that plan backfired for him against Vicente. With their styles, Muhammad and Rodrigues Jr. can be expected to stand toe-to-toe and fire off bombs early in this fight, making for an exciting battle.

Size and aggression should factor into the outcome of this contest. Both fighters will barrel forward and put everything behind their strikes, but Muhammad is very efficient in closing the distance, getting to the clinch, punishing his opponent and finishing with an overwhelming barrage of ground-and-pound. Rodrigues Jr. is more likely to fire off leg kicks and keep his distance, and he’s not as strong in the clinch. Muhammad should have little trouble dictating where the fight takes place, and that spells trouble for Rodrigues Jr.

Muhammad has demonstrated his strength and violent power in a number of his finishes. His victim this time will be the smaller Rodrigues Jr. The Swede will stick to his normal game plan and finish the fight via strikes on the ground.

Other key bouts: Chris Barnett (13-1) vs. Oli Thompson (14-8) in an IGF World Grand Prix open weight tournament semifinal bout, Satoshi Ishii (13-4-1) vs. William Penn (7-4), Yuta Kaneko (7-0-2) vs. Kiuma Kunioku (34-26-9)